Mississippi developer making fourth attempt to secure approval for Biloxi casino plan

Ray Wooldridge, the man behind RW Development, is gearing up for his fourth attempt to secure approval from the Mississippi Gaming Commission to build a casino in Biloxi. With a history spanning 15 years, Wooldridge’s efforts have faced rejection three times before due to property control issues at the proposed site on Beach Boulevard and Veterans Avenue, extending to the water’s edge – a prerequisite set by the commission.

This Thursday, 21st December, marks the latest chapter in Wooldridge’s long-standing pursuit. A special call meeting has been scheduled for 9:30 a.m. at the Gaming Commission offices in Jackson, following the regular monthly meeting.

Notably, Wooldridge comes prepared with new ammunition this time. To address the commission’s concerns, he presents a lease with the city for waterfront access and cites a crucial Supreme Court ruling from March. The ruling affirmed a local court decision stating that a state Tidelands lease is not obligatory for constructing a pier.

Jay McDaniel, the executive director of the Gaming Commission, shared insights into the case. “Now they have that lease they did not have before,” he stated. Tith these new developments, the commissioners will determine if the property is a legal and suitable casino site for Biloxi’s ninth casino.

The lease, signed in 2021, outlines the terms for RW Development to build a pier, a key move in establishing control up to the water’s edge. The five-year agreement stipulates a base rent of $1,000 per month, commencing once the pier is built or after two years from the agreement date. Notably, the company, rather than the city, assumes responsibility for building and maintaining the pier.

The pier itself, however, is explicitly barred from hosting any gaming activities. As per the lease terms: “No gaming shall be allowed on the municipal pier, nor on any vessels docked or berthed at the pier, nor on any other area of the leased premises.”

Wooldridge’s journey to secure approval has seen significant developments over the years. Despite transforming the property earmarked for the casino into the Big Play Entertainment Center, featuring a range of family attractions, he has remained steadfast in his pursuit of a gambling permit.

The struggle spans multiple episodes. In 2008, the initial application faced denial after a comprehensive hearing in Biloxi. In 2017, a fresh attempt was made with new commissioners, resulting in a public hearing in February and subsequent rejection.

Undeterred, RW Development filed for site approval again in June 2017, only to be denied once more in July by the Gaming Commission. Following an appeal, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the denial, citing non-compliance with site requirements.

As Wooldridge braces for the fourth attempt, the Gaming Commission, armed with the latest developments, faces the task of determining the property’s legal and casino-suitable status for what could potentially become Biloxi’s ninth casino.